Journalist | Writer | Analyst
The Hindu‘s editorial today is very clear about how the impasse can be overcome…
4 June 2007
Editorial: The stalemate and beyond
After three days of “intensive, productive and constructive” negotiations on their proposed nuclear cooperation agreement, India and the United States have reached an impasse, though it is too early to say whether this impasse is fatal or not. India is looking for an agreement that will give legal expression to the full set of commitments each side made on July 18, 2005 (J18) and March 2, 2006 (M2), when the original nuclear deal and subsequent separation plan for India’s civil and military facilities were agreed upon. Central to these two sets of commitments is the idea that India will be allowed to reprocess the spent fuel produced by any light water reactors or low enriched uranium it may import from the U.S. Equally central is the integrity of the fuel supplies India acquires pursuant to the overall deal. Under no circumstances can those supplies — in exchange for which Indian civilian reactors are to be placed under permanent international safeguards — be compromised by any cessation of cooperation for whatever reason. Thirdly, India is unwilling to accept that its political commitment not to test a nuclear weapon be converted into an obligation with legal consequences. There are other issues too, all of which stem from the inadequacies and shortcomings of the Hyde Act. But New Delhi believes there is no point expending energy on those unless these fundamental differences are ironed out first.
Simply put then, if there is no reprocessing in the `123 agreement’ or if there is any language that jeopardises the security of future nuclear fuel supplies, there will be no deal. Whether Nicholas Burns, who headed the U.S. delegation during the latest parley, clearly understands this, however, remains to be seen. While Indians across the board welcome the prospect of unfair technology restrictions on the country being lifted, few will want this to happen at the expense of our indigenous, three-stage nuclear programme. Reprocessing of spent fuel is an integral part of the programme and it is precisely because of the bitter experience in Tarapur — where consent rights were never given — that India is fully justified in seeking the incorporation of prior consent in the `123 agreement’ itself. In any case, leaving the issue to the future is fraught with danger. Though the U.S. itself is now coming around to recognising the usefulness of reprocessing and has come up with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership as a “proliferation-resistant” plan for the supply of nuclear fuel, the position it envisages for India is one of a “recipient” country, which will do no reprocessing itself. A deal is still possible provided Washington sticks to the letter and spirit of J18/M2. The Hyde Act wildly deviated from this benchmark but the U.S. assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the `123 agreement’ would bring matters back on track. The moment of truth will soon be upon us.